Three years ago, our family sold most of our belongings and bought one-way tickets to Northern Ireland. We joined a missions organization there, to serve as support staff. It was a leap-of-faith, to say the least! Leaving behind our home, family and friends for the unknown was a risky move, yet, we had a peace that’s hard to explain. We knew that Ireland was where we were supposed to be. After months of fundraising, yard sales and applications, we hopped over the pond on our journey.
Long-term missions had a huge impact on our family. We lived in a tiny village in Northern Ireland for nearly 2 years, we fell in love with our neighbors, spent our days investing in the trainees and serving with an amazing staff of missionaries. We experienced God provide over and over. We saw lives changed, hearts healed and yes, beautiful places, too.
First just for a bit of disclosure – if you’re looking to see the world and don’t have a passion or calling for missions then, please, just buy an around-the-world ticket and see the world. Missions work is no vacation and this post is not suggesting that you use missions as an excuse to travel. I’m not a fan of “mission-tourism”.
It was a scary thing, to sell our belongings, raise the funds and move to a new culture, community and ministry. Just the thought of doing this might make you think, “Oh, that is NOT for our family” or “We could never do that.” I want to challenge you look past those fears and consider long-term missions as a family.
Before we could go anywhere we had to downsize. We had made an initial 2-year commitment but hoped to stay from 4-6 years if possible. Keeping our personal belongings didn’t make any sense. Paying for monthly storage was not in the budget and once we really thought about it, we didn’t really NEED to save much. We went through each room and decided what was truly important to save. We only kept personal mementos, a few pieces of small furniture and most of our kitchen items. Everything else we sold on Craigslist, Facebook yard sale groups or at a yard sale. Our life for the next year had to fit into about a dozen bags.
The Perks of Downsizing
There are some huge perks to downsizing and selling most of your stuff. Living with less is so freeing! Less stuff means less to tidy up, take care of or manage. We were able to very happily live in Ireland with 4 plates, 4 bowls, and 4 cups. Our children did not cry even once over getting rid of toys, games etc. They had more than enough in the suitcases that we were able to bring. Contentment was practiced and entitlement faded.
My Tips For Downsizing:
Start small. Start with things that you just KNOW you need to get rid of… that box of scrapbooking supplies are a perfect example. Once you get started you’ll be quite surprised. We gave away lots! When we returned I remember opening boxes that we did save and thought, why on earth did we save this?
Many people don’t realize that most missionaries raise 100% of all of their living expenses. Not a single missionary in our organization receives a paycheck. Friends, family, and churches support missionaries with monthly or one-time financial donations. As a family of 4 moving to a European country, we had a big goal. Yes, it was daunting! It was a lot of work and very humbling but we were surprised how many people believed in the work we were going to do. Friends, family. and our home church lined up to help.
We held many fundraisers to raise money. We sold subs (hoagies, grinders whatever you call them where you live), had a big banquet, hosted a fundraiser night at Chick-fil-a, held a yard sale and made dozens of phone calls! Fundraising isn’t for the faint of heart, but it is possible.
We worked hard to fundraise but we were never fully-funded, meaning, we never had 100% of our funds. We never went without! I’m amazed at how each month our needs were met despite the amount in our bank account.
Lessons Learned from Fundraising
The biggest lesson we learned from fundraising is that there is a misunderstanding of what missionaries do in Europe and why they are needed. Giving to missionaries who plant churches, care for orphans or evangelize is more familiar to us. People are drawn to supporting missionaries in developing countries, the work that missionaries do in countries like France, Ukraine, Canada or Australia are too often not equally appreciated. This breaks my heart (but that’s a story for another time). All of these ministries are needed but explaining the need for support staff pastoral care, transportation, etc. is hard. We had to learn how to share what we would be doing. We had to open up and share our hearts. If you asked me today to explain the work we did in Ireland I could do it clearly and with conviction. Before actually going to Ireland it was hard to express the need and therefore hard to fundraise.
My tip: Visit your country before committing to do long-term missions work there. Spend at least one week experiencing the culture, learning more about the needs and ask lots of questions. You will find it so much easier to express your ministry once you have been to that country.
Culture Shock Fears
We were living in Northern Ireland in a tiny Irish village. Within a week of living there, we were automatically immersed in the culture. We learned quickly how to drive (and walk!) on the left, familiarize ourselves with the British Pound and Euro and do our best to navigate the strong Northern Irish accent. We quickly settled in, chatted with our new neighbors and made that small village our home.
Lessons Learned Living In Irish Culture
Most cultures need time to warm up to a bunch of Americans showing up. Give people time, but also don’t discount their warm welcome. We found Ireland to be the most welcoming, hospitable place we’ve ever been. We were welcomed in with open arms and made hard and fast friendships.
My Tips for experiencing a new culture: My number one tip – don’t keep pointing out the differences. Don’t use words like “wrong” side of the street, “weird” food, “funny” accents, etc. Remember that you are living in this country, it is your home now, accept the changes as your new normal. You will quickly learn to love many of these differences. I promise you will enjoy the culture so much more once you become a part of it, instead of keeping one foot in America.
We went to Ireland to serve in many different ways. I helped mainly with administrative tasks and my husband served on the maintenance team, caring for the 100-year-old building. Fifteen – thirty students (trainees) arrived every 6 months for training.There were also about 30 other full-time missionaries including 6 other families with small children. Community living was tough, believe me, but also so very wonderful! Our children made fast friends; there was always someone to play with. I connected so much with many of the younger single girls on staff. They are still some of my favorite girls! I can’t praise community living enough. You learn how to work through conflict quickly, pray together when things are hard, mourn loss together and always have a great line of support.
Lessons Learned Living in Community
My tips for community life: Have pastoral care. This is something that we didn’t realize we needed but looking back we were missing this key. Pastoral care will give you a safe outlet to talk through, pray for and process the difficult situations you may face. Having a neutral party is essential. Issues WILL come up, and knowing that you have a safe place to process is key. We struggled in this, to be completely honest. We did not do a great job seeking out this council. We should have, it would have been a huge help.
My Tips for Living in Community: Keep short accounts. What I mean is; learn how to let go of those grudges, stop the gossip and complaining. Yes, this is all easier said than done and I’m no saint. I stunk at this most of the time! Have you ever had a friend all of a sudden start avoiding you, or stop looking at you when you’re in the room? Have you done this to someone when you are having an issue with them? That’s no fun for either party and someone always gets hurt. Honesty is always best, passivity just creates broken relationships.
Go to the person right away and clear the air. Be open to the discussion even if it’s hard and you are so sure you’re right. Most of the time there has been a misunderstanding or miscommunication.
Don’t fear conflict. In Northern Ireland, there is and has been conflict for hundreds of year. It’s a generational issue and alive and well. If you’re not careful conflict can divide ministries, it’s a sneaky deceiver. Conflict can bring healing when handled well. Avoiding the problems, refusing to compromise or being unwilling to seek council can create cracks in an otherwise strong ministry. The investment of conflict-resolution and reconciliation is worth it and will protect the unity in your community
Yes, leaving your comfortable home and family for the unknown can be scary but don’t be scared off by the unknown. The adventure of faith can be life-changing. Our children’s lives have been forever impacted by our decision to lay down everything and go to Northern Ireland. We had fears, yes, but we believed that the Lord had a plan much bigger than our fears.
Only he who believes is obedient. Only he who is obedient, believes. –Deitrich Bonhoeffer
Missions come in all shapes and sizes. From digging wells, teaching English to repairing roofs and loving neighbors. Missions can be right in your backyard, at your job or across thousands of miles. If you’ve been feeling the call to long-term family missions, I want to encourage you to start the process with prayer, council and a visit to the location you feel called. You’ll never be entirely prepared for life in missions but you don’t need to let the unknown stop you from stepping out in faith.
Have you thought about long-term missions? Where would you feel called to go? I’d love to hear your story!
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